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116 HOW VIRTUE PRODUCES BELIEF, been made ever so impartially, or ever so correctly: whereas, in fact, they are made under circumstances, which exclude, almost, the possibility of their being made with fa

with sufficient inquiry. Men decide under the power and influence of sinful temptation; but, having decided, the decision is afterward remembered by them, and grows into a settled and habitual opinion, as much as if they had proceeded in it without any bias or prejudice wh

hatever. The extent, to which this cause acts, that is, the members who are included in its influence, will be farther known by the following observation. I have said, that sinners oftentimes expressly state to themselves the question, whether religion be true or not; and that they state to themselves this question at the time when they are about to enter upon some act of sin, which reli. gion condemns; and I believe the case so to be. I believe that this statement is often expressly made, and in the manner which I have represented. But there is also a tacit rejection of religion, whioh has nearly the same effect Whenever a man deliberately ventures upon an action, which he knows that religion prohibits, he tacitly re. jects religion. There may not pass in his thoughts every step which we have described, nor may he come expressly to the conclusion; but he acts upon the conclusion, he practically adopts it. And the doing so will alienate his mind from religion, as surely, almost, as if he had formally argued himself into an opinion of its untruth. The effect of sin is necessarily, and highly, and in all cases, adverse to the production and existence of religious faith. Real difficulties are doubled and trebled, when they fall in with vicious propensi. ties, imaginary difficulties are readily started. Vice is wonderfully acute in discovering reasons on its own side. This may be said of all kinds of vice; but, I think it more particularly holds good of what are called licentious vices, that is, of vices of debauchery; for sins of debauchery have a ten

AND VICE UNBELIEF.
Jency, which other species of sin have not so di-
rectly, to unsettle and weaken the powers of the
understanding, as well as, in a greater degree, I
think, than other vices, to render the heart tho-
l'oughly corrupt. In a mind so wholly depraved,
the impression of any argument, relating to a mor-
al or religious subject, is faint, and slight, and
transitory. Toa vitiated palate no meat has its
right taste; with a debauched mind no reasoning
has its proper influence.

But, secondly; Have we not also, from Scripture, reason to believe, that God's loly Spirit will be assisting to those who earnestly pray for it, and who sincerely prepare themselves for its reception; and that it will be assisting to them in this matter of faith in religion. The language of Scripture is, that God gives his holy Spirit to them that ask it; and moreover, that to them who use and improve it, as they ought, it is given in more and more abundance."He that hath, to him shall be given more. He that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath."*

He, who is studious to improve his measure of grace, shall find that measure increased upon him. He who neglects, or stifles, neglects through irreligion, carelessness and heedlessness, buries in sensuality, or stifles by the opposition of sin, the portion of grace and assistance, which is vouchsaled to him, he the Scripture says, will find that portion withdrawn from him. Now, this being the general nature and economy of God's assisting grace, there is no reason, why it should not extend to our faith, as well as to our practice; our perceiving the truth, as well as our obeying the truth, may be helped and succoured by it. God's Spirit can have access to our understandings, as well as our affections. He can render the mind sensible to the impressions of evidence, and the power of truth. If creatures, like us, might take upon themselves to judge what is a proper object

* Matt. xiii 12.

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dency, which other species of sin bave not so directly, to unsettle and weaken the powers of the understanding, as well as, in a greater degree, I think, than other vices, to render the heart thoroughly corrupt. In a mind so wholly depraved, the impression of any argument, relating to a moral or religious subject, is faint, and slight, and transitory. To a vitiated palate no meat has its right taste; with a debauched mind no reasoning has its proper influence.

But, secondly: Have we not also, from Scripture, reason to believe, that God's holy Spirit will be assisting to those who earnestly pray for it, and who sincerely prepare themselves for its reception; and that it will be assisting to them in this matter of faith in religion.-The language of Scripture is, that God gives his holy Spirit to them that ask it, and moreover, that to them who use and improve it, as they ought, it is given in more and more abundance. “He that hath, to him shall be given more. He that hath not, from him shall be taken away even that which he hath."* He, who is studious to improve his measure of grace, shall find that measure increased upon him. He who neglects, or stifles, neglects through irreligion, carelessness and heedlessness, buries in sensuality, or stifles by the opposition of sin, the portion of grace and assistance, which is vouchsafed to him, he the Scripture says, will find that portion withdrawn from him. Now, this being the general nature and economy of God's assisting grace, there is no reason, why it should not extend to our faith, as well as to our practice; our perceiving the truth, as well as our obeying the truth, may be helped and succoured by it. God's Spirit can have access to our understandings, as well as our affections. He can render the mind sensible to the impressions of evidence, and the power of truth. If creatures, like us, might take upon themselves to judge what is a proper object

* Matt. xiii 12

AND VICE UNBELIEF. 119 fail to proceed farther, and to acquire more and more confidence in the truth of religion ; whereas, if they live in opposition to the degree of belief, which they have, be it what it may, even it will gradually grow weaker and weaker, and, at length,

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ay in the songer and weaker, even it will

118 HOW VIRTUE PRODUCES BELIEF, of divine help, it should seem to be a serious, devout, humble, apprehensive mind, anxiously desiring to learn and know the truth; and, in order to know it, keeping the heart and understanding pure and prepared for that purpose; that is to say, carefully abstaining from the indulgence of passions, and from practices, which harden and indispose the mind against religion. I say, a mind, so guarding and qualifying itself, and imploring with devout earnestness and solicitude the aid of God's holy Spirit in its meditations and inquiries, seems, so far as we can presume to judge, as meet. an object of divine help and favour, as any of which we can form an idea : and it is not for us to narrow the promises of God concerning his assisting grace, so as, without authority, to exclude such an object from it.

From the doctrine, which has been thus concisely proposed, various important rules and reflections arise.

First; Let not men, involved in sinful courses, wonder at the difficulties which they meet with in religion. It is an effect of sin. which is almost sure to follow. Sin never fails, both to magnify real difficulties, and to suggest imaginary ones. It rests and dwells upon objections, because they help the sinner, in some measure, to excuse his conduct to himself. They cause him to come to a conclusion, which permits the gratification of his passions, or the compassing of his purpose. Deep and various is the deceitfulness of sin, of licentious sins most particularly; for they cloud the understanding; they disqualify men for serious meditation of any kind; above all for the meditation of religion.

Secondly; Let them, who ask for more light, first to take care to act up to the light which they have. Scripture and experience join their testimony to this point, namely, that they, who faithfully practise what they do know, and live agreeably to the belief, which they have, and to the just and rational consequences of that belief, seldom

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Thirdly; Let them, who are anxious to arrive at just sentiments of religion, keep their minds in a capable state, that is, free from the bias of former doubts conceived, at a time, when the power and influence of sinful temptation was upon them, suggested, in fact, lest they should find themselves obliged to give up some gratification upon which they had set their hearts; and which decisions, nevertheless, and doubts, have the same operation upon their judgments, as if they had been the result of the most pure and impartial reasoning. It is not peculiar to religion: it is true of all subjects, that the mind is sure almost to be misled, which lies under a load of prejudice contracted from circumstances, in which it is next to impossible to weigh arguments justly, or to see

clearly.

Fourthly; Let them, let all, especially those, who find themselves in a dissatisfied state of mind, fly to prayer. Let them pray earnestly and inces. santly for God's assisting grace and influence: assisting, if it be his good pleasure, as well our minds and understanding in searching after truth as our hearts and affections in obeying it. I say again, let us pray unceasingly for grace and help from the Spirit of God. When we pray for any worldly object, we may pray mistaken. We may be ignorant of our own good? we may err cgregiously concerning it. But when we pray for spiritual aid and grace, we are sure that we pray for what we want; for what, if granted, will be the greatest of all blessings. And we pray with hope because we have this gracious assurance given us by the Lord himself of grace and mercy :" If ye, helog evil, know how to give good gifts unto your

fail to proceed farther, and to acquire more and more confidence in the truth of religion; whereas, if they live in opposition to the degree of belief, which they have, be it what it may, even it will gradually grow weaker and weaker, and, at length, die away in the soul.

Thirdly; Let them, who are anxious to arrive at just sentiments of religion, keep their minds in a capable state, that is, free from the bias of former doubts conceived, at a time, when the power and influence of sinful temptation was upon them, suggested, in fact, lest they should find themselves obliged to give up some gratification upon which they had set their hearts; and which decisions, nevertheless, and doubts, have the same operation upon their judgments, as if they had been the result of the most pure and impartial reasoning. It is not peculiar to religion : it is true of all subjects, that the mind is sure almost to be misled, which lies under a load of prejudice contracted from circumstances, in which it is next to impossible to weigh arguments justly, or to see clearly.

Fourthly ; Let them, let all, especially those, who find themselves in a dissatisfied state of mind, fly to prayer. Let them pray earnestly and incessantly for God's assisting grace and influence: assisting, if it be his good pleasure, as well our minds and understanding in searching after truth as our hearts and affections in obeying it. I say again, let us pray unceasingly for grace and help from the Spirit of God. When we pray for any worldly object, we may pray mistaken. We may be ignorant of our own good ? we may err cgre. giously concerning it. But when we pray fo ritual aid and grace, we are sure that we pray for what we want; for what, if granted, will be the greatest of all blessings. And we pray with hope because we have this gracious assurance given us by the Lord himself of grace and mercy : “ If ye, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your

JORN'S MESSAGE TO JESUS. 11
ning, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like
a dove, and it abode upon him : and I knew him
not, but he that sent me to baptise with water,
the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt
sec the Spirit descending and remaining on bin,
the same is he, which baptizeth with the Holy
Ghost. And I saw, and bare record, that this is
the Son of God."

It came to pass, that, soon after ogr Lord's pub. Tio appearance, John was cast into prison, and there remained till, by a barbarous order from He. rod, in wicked compliance with a wicked vow, this good and courageous servant of God was be. headed. It does not seem quite certain, whether he was not imprisoned twice. In prison, however, his disciples, as was natural, came to him and related to him the great things, which Jesus had lately been doing; and it appears, from the accounts of the different evangelists, and by laying these accounts together in order of time, that Je.

he was not does not seolus servant of kicked you his discine imprisonersem quite com God was has

120 JOHN'S MESSAGE TO JESUS. children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them thatask him."*

SERMON XV.

JOHN'S MESSAGE TO JESUS. Now when John had heard in prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Matt. xi. 2, 3.

THESE words state a transaction, to say the least of it, of a singular kind, and well entitled to observation. Some time before our Lord's appearance, John the Baptist had produced himself to the country, as a messenger of God, and as a public preacher. The principal thing which he taught was, that a greater and more extraordinary person than himself, that is to say, no other than the long-foretold and long-expected Messiah, was about shortly to appear in the world ; that for the appearance of this person, which would be the setting up of the kingdom of God upon earth, all men were to prepare themselves by repentance and reformation. Thus did John preach, before it was known or declared, and before he (John himself) knew or declared who this extraordina. ry person was. It was, as it should seem, upon our Lord's offering himself to John to be baptised of him in Jordan, that John, for the first time, knew and published him to be that person. This testimony and record John afterward repeated concerning him in this manner, and it is remarkable : “The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he, of whom I said, After me cometh a man, which is preferred before me, for he was before me, and I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptising with water. And John bare record, say

* Matt. vii. 11.

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lated to him as was natural, camp'ison, however,

sus, a little beforether in order of and by laying nad eured the con this, amongst time, that Je. at Nain told, and had also raison without com ends funeral; mimo they were came young man

sus, a little before this, amongst other miracles, had cured the centurion's servant without coming near him; and had also raised the young man at Nain to life, when they were carrying him out to his funeral; miracles, which, it may be supposed, were much noised about in the country What then did John the Baptist do, upon receiving this intelligence? He sent to Jesus two of his disciples, saying, “ Art thou he that should come, or look

saying, " He sent to jeco, upon recy. What We for another thou he that of two of his ding this

It will appear odd, that John should entertain any doubt, or require any satisfaction about this matter. He who had himself publicly announced Jesus to be the Messiah looked for, and that also upon the most undeniable grounds, because he saw the Spirit descending and remaining upon him; the token which had been given him, where. by this person was to be distinguished by him.

This was a difficulty, which interpreters of Scripture, in very early times, saw: and the an. swer, which they gave to it, I believe to be the true one; namely, that lohn sent this message,

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